Cover image for Beauty is convulsive : the passion of Frida Kahlo
Beauty is convulsive : the passion of Frida Kahlo
Maso, Carole.
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Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Counterpoint, [2002]

Physical Description:
170 pages ; 22 cm
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PS3563.A786 B43 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This biographical meditation explores the life of one of the 20th century's most compelling and famous artists, Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). The prose poem brings together parts of Kahlo's biography, her letters, medical documents, and her diaries with language that is often as erotic and colorful as Kahlo's paintings.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Like a dark star, painter Frida Kahlo exerts a strange and inexorable power. Our fascination with both her magnetic and mythic paintings and her life of excruciating physical pain, devotion to art and beauty, and flamboyant unconventionality along with unbridled eroticism has turned her into an iconic figure, a martyred pagan saint who has inspired a hagiography that now includes a movie starring Salma Hayek and a cascade of books, each, it seems, more impressionistic and simpatico than the last. Novelist Kate Braverman attempted to enter Kahlo's psyche in The Incantation of Frida K. [BKL Mr 1 02], and now Maso, a highly original writer, distills her contemplation of Kahlo's indelible paintings and vital diaries and letters into a supple, discerning, and haunting prose poem, a biographical meditation that elegantly charts Kahlo's epic resiliency, artistic daring, unrelenting suffering, soul-saving "sense of the ridiculous," and glorious defiance. Maso's spare yet lyric tribute, a genuine communion, is a welcome antidote to the mawkishness and sensationalism that is starting to blur our appreciation for Kahlo's pioneering art and incandescent spirit. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

This impressionistic book recaps some of the more infamous events of the Mexican artist's life. Maso (The Art Lover; Aureole) relies on Kahlo's diary, as well as on letters, medical reports and Hayden Herrera's biography, Frida, and focuses primarily on the mental and physical torment the painter suffered after being maimed in a trolley accident when she was 19. For years after the accident, Kahlo's doctors prescribed a series of almost medieval corsets and a constant flow of painkillers; she also suffered miscarriages and eventually lost a leg to gangrene. Somewhat fewer pages are devoted to her painting and her relationship with Diego Rivera, although both are duly noted. Maso renders all this in an experimental hybrid of prose and poetry; nonlinearity, repetition, multiple voices and fragmentation dominate, and she shows little regard for punctuation. Some readers will inevitably find this distracting, but it feels appropriate to the jagged world of pain, deformity and drug addiction in which Kahlo spent more than half her life. Fortunately, despite the grim goings-on, Maso, like her subject, is not without a sense of humor (she slyly notes the commercialization and fetishizing of all things Frida and tosses quotes from Kahlo's detractors, as well as her own critics, into the mix), which helps her to capture the "absurdity of the maimed and desperately decorated." (Dec.) Forecast: There's been more than enough written on Kahlo to fill bookstore display tables. This may not be the first title readers turn to after seeing the Julie Taymor-directed film Frida, but it may be one of the best. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this poetry-like fiction, novelist and essayist Maso (Defiance, etc.) uses images from the life of Frida Kahlo to create, as she describes in her author's note, "a deeply personal meditation: an attempt to be in some kind of dialog with [Kahlo] across time and space-and with myself." This interaction between the author and her subject is the heart of this book, making it an imaginative, internalized interpretation of Kahlo's life and work, even if it is reliant on factual material, including Hayden Herrera's Frida. Maso's fiction is inclined toward the heights of passion and despair, so Kahlo's life, marked as it was by physical anguish and by her sensual and often pain-riddled self-portraits, makes for fitting material. Repetition, songlike cadences, and the occasional first-person narrator will make this book more appealing to readers interested in how prose, poetry, and biography intersect than to those wanting straightforward narration. But interest in Kahlo, spiked by the recent film and perhaps by Kate Braverman's Incantations of Frida K., may draw new readers to this consistently inventive writer. Maso's prose has generated wide respect, making this an important purchase for libraries with literary fiction collections.-Carolyn Kuebler, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.